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Talkin’ ‘bout my (second) generation

To kick the season off, I’ll be in Stockholm this week to talk about second generation biofuels, and in particular the outlook for ethanol produced in Brazilian bio-refineries. I thought it was a good opportunity to give you a short overview of what I’ll cover.

Renewables make up for around 40% of Brazil’s overall energy mix. That’s right, 40%.  With a share of around 16% of this mix, sugarcane is the number one source of renewables in the country. Hydropower – the number one renewable in Europe – only comes second in Brazil. Today, sugarcane is used for two things mostly: sweetening your coffee and running cars on ethanol  (mainly the juice), and producing bioelectricity (bagasse).

But 2G ethanol opens new opportunities: it reduces GHG emissions by more than 90% compared to gasoline, it increases ethanol production by 50% and it doesn’t compete with food crops as it’s based on crop waste. Indeed, by using the sugarcane residues, second-generation ethanol refining maximizes resources efficiency.

This is what one of Brazil’s biggest energy companies, Raizen, does at its new 2G plant. By using enzymes to transform the cellulose of sugarcane residues (bagasse and straw), the plant produces 42 million liters of second-generation ethanol the cost of which are expected to fall below those of 1GE in the next five years. Interestingly enough, the plant is co-located to an 80-years old sugar and 1G ethanol production facility.

The GranBio plant in Brazil, is another good example of what sugarcane can bring to the energy sector. Aside from the 82 million liters of bioethanol it can produce annually, the plant also co-generates electricity and heat with bagasse and lignin. As such, it produces enough power for 300,000 inhabitants. Not bad for bioelectricity, right?

With the right harvesting and processing techniques, these companies show that second-generation biofuels bring their own set of opportunities, not least of all the ability to literally double Brazil’s biofuels production without increasing planted surfaces, by using waste as feedstock. Also, they’re available all-year long, and they’re almost carbon-neutral.

At a time when energy efficiency, decarbonisation, and waste reuse are topping the environmental agenda, the reality of proven solutions such as bioethanol and bioelectricity must be acknowledged and supported with the right public policies in order to be able to release their full potential.

That’s the story I’ll tell the folks in Stockholm, in a nutshell. Stay tuned for more!

Géraldine Kutas